Race Review – Hardmoors 55 Ultramarathon 2020

The Hardmoors 55 is billed on its website as ‘one hell of a race’, and that’s no exaggeration! Following the Cleveland Way for 55 miles from Guisborough to Helmsley, it has over 2,000 metres of ascent (including some pretty brutal hills) and takes in the highest, most exposed section of the North York Moors. Because of this, and because it’s usually in March, the weather always plays its part in the proceedings. In 2018 the race took place as the Beast from the East swept the country and was officially stopped halfway through during a blizzard. Last year featured torrential rain, freezing gale force winds and horizontal hail, and many runners dropped out – including me! The wind was so strong we couldn’t even run on some flat sections. Soaked to the skin and dithering with cold, I’d had enough after a horrible 20 miles that took me six hours. It was the first time I’d ever DNF’d in a race, and afterwards I felt really annoyed about it, even though I know it was the right decision at the time.

This year coronavirus had postponed the event from March to October, and I was back to attend to some unfinished business! The race was run under Covid guidelines, with masked, socially distanced registration, a staggered start, and hygiene procedures in place at checkpoints. We also all had our temperature taken on arrival. The weather forecast was for wind in the morning and rain later on. I felt my training had gone pretty well, so felt reasonably confident I’d make the finish as our group of six set off at 8.48 am precisely.

The first part of the route climbs steadily upwards, and after six miles comes the first ‘peak’ of the day: Roseberry Topping, aka the Yorkshire Matterhorn. My poles came out for the first time here! It’s quite a technical climb/descent, and with runners going both ways on an out and back route quite close to the start, it was pretty busy. The wind was really howling up there, and as I got right to the top (there are marshals, so you can’t cheat) I was literally blown onto the trig point! So I was pretty glad to get down again.

The first checkpoint was at Gribdale, eight miles in. Runners had to sanitise their hands when entering each checkpoint. Masked and gloved marshals distributed all the drinks, so we didn’t have to touch any bottles, and all the snacks were individually wrapped; so it all felt quite safe. I had a drop bag here, so drank my chocolate milk and took my pain au chocolat and sausage roll with me for later! Usually some checkpoints are at indoor venues, such as village halls, and have hot food and drinks, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible this year.

After Gribdale there’s a climb up to the impressive Captain Cook’s monument, then a nice long descent to Kildale. From here there’s a road section that goes uphill for quite a long way and seems never-ending! The second checkpoint was along here at Warren Moor (12 miles), but I didn’t stop as I was well stocked up at this point. The next eight miles or so are some of the most exposed on the course, and there was a gale force wind blowing against us, so progress was a bit slow; but at least it wasn’t a freezing wind like last year. I tried to suck it up and enjoy the views, although I could see the rain clouds coming in! It was also a good opportunity to eat, which is really important in a race of this length. As somebody once said to me “If you can’t run, eat!”, which is excellent advice for a ultra.

The next checkpoint came up at Clay Bank, 20 miles in. I was really pleased to get here, as this is where I pulled out, had my tracker cut off and climbed into the marshal’s ‘car of shame’ last year! This was another drop bag point, where I had more chocolate milk and collected a couple of gels, as I knew eating would be difficult over the next section. The rain also started at this point. Straight after this is the hardest part of the course; the infamous Three Sisters. This is a roller coaster of three huge hills with steep climbs and descents, including a scramble through the spectacular Wainstones. Rocky, technical descents are not my forte, so it was just a matter of taking things steady and getting on with it. The views are amazing though!

Then follows a gentle descent to Lordstones, followed immediately by another huge climb up Carlton Bank. At least the wind had died down a bit by this point!

The next section of the course, towards Osmotherley, is one of the nicest parts, with some gentle descent and pretty woodland. There was another checkpoint at Scarth Nick, just before Osmotherley (28 miles in) where I picked up some peanuts and a chocolate Freddo – haven’t had one of those for a while! From Osmotherley there is another big climb. It was still raining steadily and the light was starting to fade by now. I was still only just over halfway, and felt a bit fed up for a while. As I passed Square Corner at 32 miles, many runners had supporters parked up in cars and vans waiting to meet them. For a moment I thought it would be nice to sit down in a warm van – but then realised it might be hard to get going again afterwards!

There’s another steady climb from Square Corner up to Black Hambleton. Yes, another one! I had to stop and retie one of my shoelaces along here, so thought I might as well put my head torch on at the same time. At the top of the climb, where the path flattened out, huge puddles had formed that were impossible to avoid, so it was cold and soaking feet for the last 20 miles! My gloves were also wet by now and my hands were getting a bit cold, but at least it was possible to run quite well on this stretch, so I just got on with it and managed to warm up. It was pitch black by now, but there were lots of people around so it wasn’t scary. It was nice to chat to a few folk en route. As we entered Boltby Forest I felt quite positive, as I knew Steve was waiting to see me at Sutton Bank not far ahead.

My last drop bag was at the Sneck Yate checkpoint at 39 miles. I had more chocolate milk (magic stuff!) and tried to eat some of my sausage roll, but couldn’t, so cracked on. Or tried to – this was where the ‘fun’ started! The day’s rain had turned all the grassy tracks from now onwards into a mud fest. Trails that I would happily trip along on a fine, dry day became really hard work; so there was quite a bit of walking from here! I was pretty pleased to get a hug and some chocolate from Steve when I saw him. The temptation to just stop and get into the car was huge, because I knew how hard the route would be from here to the end at Helmsley, but I was determined to finish. Steve ran with me from Sutton Bank to the final checkpoint at the White Horse (support runners are allowed later in the race), where a fab crowd of marshals, including my friend Mandy, were cheering people in. A great boost, and the rain had even stopped!

However, there were still about ten miles to go and conditions were so gloopy it took me nearly three hours to cover them. Apart from a few short road sections, everything was so wet and muddy, sapping energy from the legs – it was like wading through treacle in places. When I tried to use my poles to help on a steep, muddy downhill they just sank in and got stuck! I tried to comfort myself by thinking we were all in the same boat. At one point I took a wrong turn that probably added on about half a mile – that’ll teach me to blindly follow another runner! Despite the tough conditions, everyone seemed in good spirits, encouraging each other on and having a laugh at times. I was really pleased to get the last climb out of Rievaulx finished, because I knew it was then all downhill to Helmsley. But when I ran downhill my quads began to hurt! I was really pleased to finish and also happy that I’d made it to the end this time. Unfortunately Covid restrictions meant that we couldn’t wait around and chat to people as we usually would, but had to leave straight away. Our hard-earned goody bags contained a technical t-shirt featuring the all-important Hardmoors crossed swords, plus some heavy, high-quality bling.

My finish time was 14:48:05 – slower than I would have liked, but I think the conditions slowed everyone down. I was 181st out of 221 individual finishers (almost 40 people dropped out or didn’t make the time cuts along the way) and 4th out of the eight FV50s that finished. So not an easy day at the office! At the end I said “Never again!” but after a few days of recovery I’m thinking I could go faster in better conditions. Apparently good weather has been known at this race in the past! And I don’t have a major goal for next spring yet…

Getting Back To ‘Normal’

Hello folks, it’s been a while! How are we all doing? I feel like we’ve all been in running limbo for the past few months. In my last blog post, at the end of April, I wondered if things would be back to some kind of normality by the summer, but as it turned out that was a tad optimistic! So many events have been cancelled or postponed until next year that my 2021 schedule is already looking pretty busy.

When we were all in lockdown I kept my runs local, but as things eased slightly I ventured a bit further afield to parts of the Cleveland Way, Dalby Forest and the Wolds Way – always on my own to remain socially distanced. Although there have been no races over the summer I’ve been trying my best to keep fit.

I do like to have a goal to keep me motivated though, so entered the Boston (UK) Marathon. I don’t really do road marathons these days, but it seemed to be the only thing that was actually happening. I did more interval and threshold training than usual to prepare for this, and began to feel the benefits. The Boston organisers put all the appropriate Covid safety processes in place, obtained approval and were convinced it would go ahead… but then with less than three weeks to go it was cancelled. I was disppointed, but not totally surprised. At least I had a good block of training under my belt, and I do feel fitter for it.

The following week I took part in my first post-Covid trail race, the Temple Newsam Dash, organised by It’s Grim Up North Running. I’d entered the half marathon version of this as part of my Boston taper, and it was an interesting experience. Registration was oudoors and contactless, with staggered start times in socially distanced groups of six. I thought it worked pretty well, as no big groups developed and the course had plenty of space. The only refreshments were bottles of water, but I’d taken my own Camelbak so I didn’t have to touch anything. I must say, staggered starts make for much shorter toilet queues! It felt really good to be back out running with people and see a few familiar faces.

After that my thoughts turned to the Hardmoors 55 in October, which had been postponed from April. I’m fairly confident this will happen (barring a local lockdown) as a couple of other Hardmoors events have already happened (socially distanced, obviously) and seem to have gone OK. So I’ve moved from my road marathon training plan onto my ultra plan! This has seen me doing back-to-back runs of 10-12 miles over the last couple of weekends, with some bigger runs coming up over the next few weeks. First there’s Punk Panther events Reservoir Dogs in late September. I’ve been meaning to try one of their events for a while but the timing has never been right. This will be a 28 mile hilly run starting and finishing in Otley and apparently taking in seven reservoirs! Then at the beginning of October there’s the Endurancelife Northumberland marathon at Ravenscar. I’ve done this event once before and it’s really lovely. Ravenscar is one of my favourite places and I haven’t been there since the Hardmoors 60 a year ago, so I’m really looking forward to it.

Next week I’m going for a break in Scotland, and am looking forward to exploring some trails while I’m up there. I was supposed to be running the Highland Fling in April, but obviously that’s now happening next year. Looking further into autumn, I have the Hardmoors Goathland marathon and the Tadcaster 10 (miles) in November, then the Helmsley 10K (postponed from Easter) and the Hardmoors Roseberry Topping half marathon in December. Fingers crossed that these events will be able to go ahead. The future still isn’t totally clear at the moment, but hopefully 2021 will be slightly more normal than 2020 has been.

Keep on running!

Running in Lockdown

I last posted here in mid-March, and in the relatively short time since then the world has changed beyond recognition. At that time I’d just run the Golden Fleece Circuit as part of my preparation for the Highland Fling race, my main target for spring. Not long afterwards we were in lockdown and everything was cancelled. One by one the events I was planning to take part in over the spring and summer fell like dominos: the Daffodil Dash, the Helmsley 10K, the Vale of York 10, the York & District clubs summer 10K league, the Fling, the Windermere Marathon, Race to the Castle, Endure 24… right up until July. I don’t have anything in the diary until the Hardmoors Farndale Marathon in August now. But who knows whether life will be back to anything approaching normal even by then? It was all totally understandable, but so disappointing.

Look, I realise this is very much a first world problem and I have such a lot to be grateful for. As far as I know I’m healthy, and so are all my loved ones. I’m still working (mostly from home) and not being laid off or furloughed. As a self-employed landscaper, my husband is struggling to work at the moment, but we can manage. I have friends in foreign countries who are properly locked down and not even able to leave the house at the moment, but we can still take our state-sanctioned outdoor exercise every day (thank God!). And yet… I found that not being able to run where I like, or run with other people, or take part in any events left a big hole in my life. Running makes a massive difference to my mental wellbeing, and I know that many other people feel the same.

So when we found ourselves in lockdown I was properly fed up to start with. It was a couple of weeks before Endure was cancelled, so at first I re-jigged my training schedule to lead up to that; even though I knew it probably wouldn’t happen I pretended it would to try and stay motivated. But deep down I felt there was no point doing any training, because what was I even training for? I was also eating too much cake and drinking too much wine, which made me not sleep very well, and that certainly didn’t help my mood. Something clearly had to change before I couldn’t fit into my clothes. So I decided to do something I’ve never done before – train for a 10K! This may sound surprising, as I’ve run many 10Ks in the past; but I’ve never specifically trained for one before. I’ve always done them just for fun.

Years ago, when I started taking running a bit more seriously than just jogging to lose half a stone (my original goal!) I had three road times that I thought I’d like to achieve; a sub four hour marathon, a sub 1:50 half and a sub 50 minute 10K. I managed to achieve the first two, but never the last. The closest I came was 50:26 at the Leeds Abbey Dash in 2016. After that I started doing mostly ultra training, so not much speed work. As I can’t really do long or hilly runs at the moment, improving my pace is at least something I can focus on. The Leeds 10K in July isn’t cancelled yet, so I might even enter that if it goes ahead. I doubt I’ll ever break 50 minutes now, but hey ho, I’ll have a go! So I’m doing a couple of speed sessions a week from a sub 50 10K plan I found on the UK Athletics website and I feel a lot better for having a new goal. We have an airfield in our village with a public footpath alongside it, which has a perfect flat, Tarmac surface for intervals – almost like a track!

I’m still doing a longer run at the weekend, and I’m really enjoying discovering local trail routes I never knew about until I recently bought an Ordnance Survey Explorer map of our area. I’m also improving my map reading skills, which are pretty much non-existent!

The other thing that’s been keeping me going is that the instructor at my regular circuit training group, Liam from Courage Fitness, has been sending us home workouts via WhatsApp twice a week. These are really good (very testing!), and at the end of each one we have a challenge to do, for which we get points and have a league table to keep us entertained. At the moment I’m surprised to be in second place. Apparently I’m not brilliant at anything, but am consistently average! So with extra strength training and more cake (but less wine now), I’ll probably come out of lockdown fatter but fitter. Also, unable to see where I’m going as I can’t get a haircut!

Hope everyone is coping OK with the restrictions. Hopefully things will start to regain some sort of normality by summer. Stay strong, folks!

(Rainbow courtesy of my friend Nicola!)

Race Review – Golden Fleece Circuit 2020

I love running ultras, but preparing for them properly does involve doing quite a few long training runs, which can sometimes be a bit boring. So I love it when I can find an event to enter that’s about the same length as the long run I need to do on that weekend. It’s far more interesting to run a new route with other people than to just go out and plug away by myself. Last weekend’s Golden Fleece Circuit was a great opportunity to combine some Highland Fling training with a good day out.

I heard about the Fleece last year, but unfortunately only when it was already full – a good sign! So I made sure to get in sharpish this year. It’s based in the lovely village of South Cave in East Yorkshire, and is organised by the Scouts there. Apparently it was created in memory of a chap called Bob Gunby, a keen walker and scouter who passed away in 2010. What a lovely, lasting memorial that also raises money for the scouts. The Circuit winds its way on mixed terrain through the southern end of the Yorkshire Wolds, with a choice of 15 or 27.5 mile options. I obviously plumped for the longer one! I was slightly nervous about it as the route isn’t marked and I’m a bit navigationally challenged, but printed off the map and route description and hoped for the best. I even printed out the description in large print so I could read it without my glasses!

The weather looked quite promising as I left York at 7 am and was forecast to be dry after what seemed like months of wet, windy weather. The event starts and finished at the community centre in the village, near the impressive backdrop of Cave Castle. There was plenty of parking, both at the venue and on nearby streets. Registration was very fast; we didn’t get a pin-on number, but a laminated card to get punched at the checkpoints.

I wasn’t sure what the ratio of runners to walkers would be, but I think there were probably more runners. It was nice to say hello to a couple of people I knew as I queued for the toilet. We could probably have done with more than three portable loos at the start for 500 people. Luckily I managed to get in just before the start – others were not so lucky!

A hooter sounded and we set off bang on time at 8.30 am. I had no aim other than to get round, spend time on my feet and enjoy the day. I thought it might take me about five hours, but didn’t mind if it was more. The first few miles were quite easy and mostly flat trail, so a nice warm-up.

From about six miles in the course was more undulating, but nothing too taxing. There were nine checkpoints along the route, six of which had refreshments. I wasn’t sure what to expect, so had brought a couple of cereal bars and gels, but needn’t have bothered; there was a great range of sweet and savoury snacks, and at various points I had sausage rolls, a tuna sandwich, scones, cookies, lemon drizzle cake and some fabulous date and walnut loaf. Possibly the only event ever where I’ve consumed more calories than I expended! I did pass on the spicy chicken wings though…

At about seven miles the short and long routes split, so runners were a bit more strung out after that. I could still see people ahead and behind though, and was fine with that. I trotted along, walking up the steep bits and even taking a few photos. The scenery was fantastic. The Yorkshire Wolds don’t seem to be as popular or famous as the Dales, so are often overlooked by tourists, but I think they’re just as stunning.

From about halfway I began to have a few issues with navigation. A couple of times I got to junctions and wasn’t sure which way to go, so had to wait for someone to catch me up! Yes, I had the map and route details with me, but as I wasn’t sure where I was it was easier to wait for someone who knew where they were going. Lazy of me really! I got the impression lots of the participants had done the circuit before, sometimes several times, and I could understand why.

I eventually fell in with a lovely group from local club Pocklington Runners (one of whom had the route on her fancy watch) and ran about the last 10K with them. They were so friendly and chilled, and we spent the last few miles (which had a couple of steep hills) run/walking, chatting and taking photos of each other. I had a great time!

The last mile or so of the route was a lovely, long downhill, then through the village to the finish back at the community hall.

At the end there was more food (hot and cold) and drinks. We were also awarded with a certificate showing our time and a fab sew-on patch that made me feel like I was back in the Girl Guides! My time was 5:25, but would probably have been slightly quicker if I’d had better knowledge of the route. I came 62nd out of 149 people who completed the long route – not that it was important. 268 people completed the shorter route. The results don’t differentiate between runners and walkers. I imagine a lot of people did some of each. I’d definitely do this event again. It only cost £16 to enter so was great value. And next time I’ll know where I’m going!

I’m now on week 14 of my 20 week Highland Fling training plan. It’s a cutback week, so I don’t have any big runs to do this weekend. I’ll still be going my midweek circuits class though, as I think it’s definitely helping me to become stronger. And I love it! I’m also really looking forward to going to the première of the Hardmoors film Always Moving Forward in Helmsley on Sunday evening and catching up with a few running friends. Then I’ve got a big three weeks of training coming up before I start my three week taper. I can’t believe the Fling is only six weeks away now! I’m slightly nervous that events I’ve entered in the spring and summer might get called off due to the coronavirus outbreak, but trying to stay positive and carry on as normal. Fingers crossed!

 

 

Goals for 2020 and Endurancelife Northumberland

How’s your new running year going? I’ve had quite a hectic start to 2020 with house renovations continuing and a busy time at work, as well as fitting in training. First world problems, hey? I’m not complaining!

After the Nottingham Christmas Marathon I realised my legs were really tired from all the long events (and associated training) I did last year, so over the Christmas holidays I basically ran for fun and ate/rested a lot. By new year I was feeling a lot more energised and ready to start training for the Highland Fling in April, which is my main spring goal. I’m currently on week 12 of my usual 20 week ultra plan and feeling OK, and I’ve done a couple of fun events recently. Firstly the Temple Newsam Ten last month, which I’ve done three times now and really love as a way of getting going again after the festive break. It’s ten miles of good, hilly training. They do a really good long-sleeved t-shirt too, which is really handy for winter training and this year was the brightest shade of pink I’ve ever seen!

Then a couple of weeks ago I did the No Ego Challenge head torch run at Dalby Forest, which I did last year and is five miles of dark, very hilly fun. Last year it rained, but this year the weather was pretty perfect, cold and dry.

 

Last weekend I ran Endurancelife Northumberland. I love Endurancelife events; they’re not cheap but are really well organised and supported, with a choice of distances: 10K, half/full marathon or ultra. Last year I did the ultra at Northumberland as I wanted the UTMB points, but this year I ran the marathon as training for the Highland Fling.

What a difference a year makes, weather-wise! Last year we ran in brilliant sunshine on one of the warmest February days on record. This year it was like a totally different event with lots of rain, hail, mud, water and a brutal head wind in the second half. Even the sand was more difficult this year, soft and energy-sapping rather than firm and easy.

Obviously the scenery was still as beautiful as ever, but I must admit I was pretty pleased to finish. A great training exercise though!

I have a few more events planned before the Highland Fling:

The Golden Fleece Circuit – a low-key, local (but very popular) 27 mile run/walk event at East Cave on 7th March. It isn’t signed, so I’ll probably get lost!

The Daffodil Dash at Temple Newsam at the end of Mach. I’ve done this a couple of times before and it’s a great training event with a choice of distances – I’m doing the marathon. Always a great goody bag too!

The Helmsley 10K on Easter Sunday. A really fun, hilly off-road event that I did last year. You get an Easter egg and a mug at the end!

I’ve entered our summer club league of 10K evening races, the York and District Road Race League. I love this, but only managed once race out of the series last year, as the others were either all too close to long events I was doing, or I was on holiday. Must try harder this year!

The Vale of York 10 (miles). This is the weekend before the Fling, when I really shouldn’t be running ten miles, but I can’t resist as it’s in my home village and a few friends from our circuits class there are also doing it. I’ll just have to take it very steady!

Speaking of circuits, I’ve been going to a weekly class for some time now and think it’s really starting to help my running. I feel stronger than before, but although I’m a lot better at planking and burpees than I used to be, I still don’t seem to be very good at press ups. Must keep trying. It’s hard work but good fun, and our instructor (Liam of Courage Fitness) mixes things up every week to keep it interesting. I’ve also made a few friends there (running and non-running) and would really miss it if I didn’t go now. We’re using the school hall for now, but will be back outside when the evenings get a bit lighter.

 

Looking further ahead this year, I’ve also entered the new Race to the Castle event in June and Endure 24 (as a solo) in July. I’m not sure if I’ve taken on too much with these two events being only a month apart, and after the Highland Fling too. I might have to defer one (luckily I can do that with either), so will see how I feel and decide nearer the time. I don’t have a particular goal for autumn yet, so will have to think of something.

Hope your new running year is going well!